Margie Burns

Bush Justice Hard on Dems

A study released by the House Judiciary Committee shows that Democrats were 11 times more liable than Republicans to be prosecuted under the Bush Department of Justice.

The controversial mid-term firings of federal prosecutors that were examined in congressional hearings in spring 2007 now look like the tip of an even more unsavory iceberg: The even bigger story may be why some of the 94 US Attorneys were not fired. If some prosecutors were fired for refusing to engage in politically timed or selective prosecutions, in other words, the question arises — what actions and policies did prosecutors accede to, who retained their jobs?

One answer is selective prosecution.

The Sarah McClendon Group at the National Press Club hosted a forum June 16 on selective federal prosecutions. Sponsored by the nonprofit Alliance for Justice and Project for Justice and co-sponsored by a dozen other groups including Common Cause Ohio, the forum established conclusively that the phenomenon of selective prosecution was much more widespread than the firings themselves. According to every attorney and former government official who spoke at the Press Club, selective prosecution under the previous administration occurred nationwide.

Speakers who attested from firsthand observation included Alabama’s former Gov. Don Siegelman, the Democrat who was convicted on corruption charges during a second trial in 2006 after previous attempts to get him failed. A Republican whistleblower has since provided evidence of plotting by White House insiders, including Senior White House advisor Karl Rove, to oust Siegelman. Retired Chief US District Judge U.W. Clemon of Birmingham, who also spoke at the forum, has written to US Attorney General Eric Holder that Siegelman’s first prosecution was “the most unfounded criminal case over which I presided during my entire judicial career.”

Other speakers included former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz, twice acquitted after lengthy but bogus prosecutions worthy of inclusion in a novel by John Grisham — a friend of Diaz — that ended his political career and also targeted his wife; Puerto Rico state Senate Minority Whip Eduardo Bhatia, representing acquitted former Gov. Anibal Acevedo; and Charles Walker Jr., son of imprisoned Charles Walker Sr., former Georgia state Senate Majority Leader and owner of the Augusta Focus community newspaper.

In other words, selective prosecution was systematic — as shown by the sheer geographical breadth and the wide diversity of targets — diverse, aside from being Democrats. The panel, which included attorney Bruce Fein, associate general counsel in the Justice Department under Ronald Reagan, concurred that selective prosecution was a “national event,” with responsibility going up to the level of Rove and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

According to a study of 820 federal cases and investigations cited in the 541-page report on five categories of presidential overreaching issued by the Judiciary Committee (“Reining in the Imperial Presidency,”, “during the Bush Administration, 80% of federal public corruption investigations have involved Democratic officeholders and only 14% have involved Republican officeholders.”

Strategy and tactics were also systematic. Walker, the son of the imprisoned former Georgia majority leader, noted for example the effective cooperation between the local federal prosecutor at the time, Richard Thompson, and a local newspaper. While neutral prosecutors generally try to avoid scheduling investigations, prosecutions or trials during a political campaign or on the eve of an election, Walker said that most of the investigations against his father “were launched during the election cycle.” According to Harper’s writer Scott Horton, who has covered the Walker story for the magazine and who also spoke at the forum, the Augusta Chronicle — the local Republican newspaper and in competition with Walker’s — made the most of the investigations, typically with one-sided or advantageously timed reports. As Walker noted, headlines about federal investigations helped the local GOP in gubernatorial and other races.

Judge Clemon, discussing the case of former Alabama Gov. Siegelman, said eloquently that “up to the beginning of this new century” he had had confidence in cases brought by federal prosecutors. “When the awesome power of the greatest nation on earth is brought to bear” against a US citizen through a federal indictment, Clemon said feelingly, “there should always be ample grounds.” Until recently, there had been. Clemon noted, however, that the Siegelman conviction was reversed by the court of appeals in the 11th Circuit — and prosecutors immediately re-indicted Siegelman, with little pretense of changing a defective indictment. What they did do was shift to a different court, in a different federal district in Alabama, ignoring jurisdictional problems. As Clemon put it, “They went on a spree of shopping for a Republican judge” until they got one. Clemon also noted the “symbiotic relationship” between the federal prosecutor and the Republican-leaning Birmingham News, which tried to imply a connection between Clemon and Siegelman, who had been at odds politically over the years.

Defective indictments succeed when the local press is defective. As more than one speaker pointed out, most of these problematic investigations occurred “under the national radar” — often covered by only one newspaper at most, sometimes by only one reporter or on one beat.

Fein, the Reagan administration official, pointed out that under current law, US attorneys cannot be sued. Even in instances of the most egregious failures of equal protection, there is no redress for the individual. “Congress has to enact a statute,” Fein said.

The panel also concurred that investigation of abuses under the previous administration is essential. The end of a term has not ended the harms done.

Margie Burns is a Texas native who now writes from Washington, D.C. Email See her blog at

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2009

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